British investigators are poised to probe the ‘Panama Papers’ which have named 12 world leaders in a sensational tax haven leak.
The current leaders of Argentina, Ukraine and Iceland were named last night alongside associates of leaders in Russia, Syria and Egypt.
They are accused of benefiting from complex offshore structures which hide wealth worth billions of pounds in a vast network that includes sports stars and celebrities.
Among those mentioned in 11million secret documents from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca were David Cameron ‘s late dad Ian, Tory MPs and peers.
Much tax avoidance is legal and most of those named have spoken out to deny wrongdoing.
But campaigners say the secrecy of tax havens – including the British Virgin Islands – allow criminals to pass unnoticed.
Robert Palmer of Global Witness, which campaigns against exploitation by big global firms, said offshore firms “can act as getaway cars for terrorists, dictators, money launderers and tax evaders all over the world.”
He added: “The time has clearly come to take away the keys, by requiring the collection and publication of information on who really owns and controls these companies.
“This would make it much harder to launder dirty money and leave the rest of us safer as a result.”
Oxfam policy head Richard Pyle added: “This leak highlights the key role that UK-linked tax havens like the British Virgin Islands play in allowing a privileged elite to dodge paying their fair share of tax.
“People in the world’s poorest countries pay the highest price for the billions of lost tax money when their governments are unable to fund life-saving healthcare such as midwives and vaccinations for children.”
Five current and seven former global leaders are named in the leak to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The current leaders include Argentinian President Mauricio Macri, Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Also named in the full list are former leaders of Georgia, Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, Sudan and Ukraine.
Spokesmen for the leaders of Iceland, Argentina and Ukraine, who replied to the ICIJ’s requests for comment, denied wrongdoing.
The ICIJ claimed Mr Gunnlaugsson co-owned “a British Virgin Islands shell company called Wintris Inc., which held nearly $4 million in bonds in the three major Icelandic banks”.
Iceland’s leader denied he had owned an offshore company in a TV interview, saying he had always adhered to the law and adding: “I have always given all of my assets and that of my family up for taxes.”
Mr Macri’s official spokesman said Fleg Trading Ltd, of which he was named as a director in the files, was related to a family business group.
‘Chocolate King’ businessman Mr Poroshenko’s spokesman said Prime Asset Partners, of which he was named as the sole shareholder, was part of a corporate restructuring and had no relation to political and military upheaval in Ukraine.
Also drawing attention were the associates and relations of world leaders – named in 17 separate cases in the leak.
The papers include a $2billion trail involving Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, including childhood friends of the Russian President.
And they name relatives of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, according to the BBC – one of more than 100 news organisations that have worked on the files.
A far longer list names dozens of lower-level politicians from across the globe, including a relative of a powerful Chinese ruler and members of Iceland’s cabinet.
The revelations pile pressure on David Cameron , who said tax avoidance is “morally wrong” and will hold an anti-corruption summit in London in May.
A chart released by the ICIJ claimed Britain has the second highest number of middle men firms working with the Panamanian law giant.
According to the ICIJ the UK had 1,924 intermediaries – second only to Hong Kong with 2,212.
More than half of the 300,000 firms said to have used Mossack Fonseca are registered in British-administered tax havens, which Mr Cameron has vowed to crack down on.
Three Tory peers are mentioned in the documents. They are ex-minister Michael Mates, former party donor Lord Ashcroft and Pamela Sharples.
Lord Mates told the ICIJ his shares in a Caribbean real estate firm were not of “any real value” and a friend had asked him to be the chairman.
The ICIJ claimed Belize Corporate Services, a subsidiary of Lord Ashcroft ‘s BCB Holdings, “began using Mossack Fonseca to provide shell corporations for its clients in 2006”.
But a spokesman for Lord Ashcroft called it “entirely false” that “Lord Ashcroft either personally, or through a corporate entity in some way connected with him” had “‘partnered’ and ‘done business'” with Mossack Fonseca.
“These allegations are completely untrue, and the events as described never happened. The records upon which you claim to rely for those allegations either do not exist or have been falsified,” the spokesman told the ICIJ.
Lady Sharples has shares in Bahamas-based Nunswell Investments Limited. Her lawyers said she became a director in 2000, the firm was registered in the UK that year and now pays taxes here.
A law firm representing Lady Sharples told the ICIJ she had received “no remuneration…nor any income or capital from that company”.
MPs were also said to be named in the files, but their names have not yet emerged in press reports.
Tax investigators at HM Revenue and Customs confirmed they are poised to investigate the leak.
HMRC director-general of enforcement and compliance Jennie Grainger said: “We have already received a great deal of information on offshore companies, including in Panama, from a wide range of sources, which is currently the subject of intensive investigation,” she said.
“We have asked the ICIJ to share the leaked data that they have obtained with us. We will closely examine this data and will act on it swiftly and appropriately.”
Mossack Fonseca rejected any accusations of wrongdoing and said it had operated “beyond reproach” for 40 years. The firm appeared to accept the files came from “unauthorised access” to its systems.